October 4, 2007

Critical Test

APME attendees make their way through the atrium. (Sam Kittner)
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APME attendees make their way through the atrium. (Sam Kittner)

The Newseum’s Joe Urschel introduces the 4-D film. (Sam Kittner)
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The Newseum’s Joe Urschel introduces the 4-D film. (Sam Kittner)

The NBC News Interactive Newsroom gets a workout. (Sam Kittner)
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The NBC News Interactive Newsroom gets a workout. (Sam Kittner)

Newspaper folks give TV a try. (Sam Kittner)
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Newspaper folks give TV a try. (Sam Kittner)

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 — More than 200 newspaper editors from around the nation put the Newseum’s most ambitious interactive exhibits and films to the test today during a behind-the-scenes preview.

Construction workers, pushing to finish the museum’s 250,000 square feet of galleries, theaters and exhibits, got the afternoon off so the Associated Press Managing Editors could open its annual conference on the site.

"I hope that you saw our 75-foot First Amendment (engraving) outside," Newseum CEO Charles L. Overby said from the stage of the just-completed Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater. "Even if we didn’t put anything inside the building, just having those words right on Pennsylvania Avenue would be worth the investment we’ve made."

But editors discovered that, indeed, there was plenty to see and do inside the Newseum, starting with two original films, "45 Words: A Story of the First Amendment" and "Convergent Newsrooms: Virginia Tech."

"I love the First Amendment film," said Michael Kane, publisher of the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle. "It was truly powerful, and I think that you’ll have a broad audience respond to it, everybody from the fourth grade through college and on up."

After seeing the films, editors made their way to the NBC News Interactive Newsroom to test their skills at the Be a Reporter, Be a Photographer and journalism ethics stations.

Be a Reporter entertained and challenged him, Kane said, laughingly admitting that he needed two deadline extensions from the game’s editors to file his final story. "It’s a lot of fun, but it still shows people how difficult it is to get a story on deadline and get it right."

J. Ross Baughman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer from The Washington Times, said the Be a Photographer interactive experience "was very realistic. The technology is so appealing, but I’m really glad to see that you’re integrating the true values of journalism with the technology as well."

Over at the Be a TV Reporter stations, newspaper editors got a taste of what it might be like to swap places with Anderson Cooper for awhile. "I’m a technology geek, so I love it," said Greg Haas, assistant managing editor of the Las Vegas Journal. He said he was particularly impressed by the journalism ethics game, which pits teams against each other in a race to solve real-life ethical quandaries. "The questions are basic enough that people will be comfortable but the scenarios are tricky, just like real life. They got me a couple of times!"

The afternoon culminated with the first public showing of the Newseum’s signature "4-D" film, a ride through space and time to visit some of the greatest journalism feats of all time. With their seats moving and reacting to the action, editors jumped and squealed their way through scenes with Revolutionary printer Isaiah Thomas, stunt reporter Nellie Bly and broadcasting pioneer Edward R. Murrow.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Michael Anastasi said that he’d been "skeptical" about the Newseum’s offerings before he arrived. "But I had a blast," he said. "The 4-D was just extraordinary. It’s so inspiring to see these journalists who came before us and learn about what they went through.

"You can be an editor from the largest paper in the world or the smallest, but the goal is the same: serve your readers. Being here makes me want to go back and think about how to do that better every day."

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